It doesn’t take long watching this film to see that Director Steve McQueen isn’t going to pull punches on graphic language and brutal scenes telling this painful, but true story. The audible gasps from the audience throughout the movie are proof that McQueen succeeded in capturing the injustice, inequality, human suffering, and death that remains the darkest chapter of our nation’s past.
An educated northern black man is taken from his family and the free life he was living in pre-Civil War America, turning his world upside down. In a blink of an eye he’s bought and sold to southern slave owners and renamed. However unjust and misplaced his circumstances are, this new slave, Solomon Northup, must immediately struggle to survive while keeping faith that someday he’ll return to his family and a freed life.
The brilliance of this Oscar-nominated ‘Best Picture’ (9 nominations overall) is the patience it takes to describe the cruel and savage treatment of slaves. It clearly illustrates how a northern black man with his “freedom papers” and an education had a different life than one without in the South--who was left to be viewed as “property”. The film is an emotional, intense, and raw look at not only black men enslaved by powerful white slave owners, but also from the perspective of black women and children who were victims of the same human suffering and died. Lastly, we catch a small glimpse of the differences between northern whites and slave owning southern whites that becomes a precursor to the Civil War years later.
“12 Years a Slave” is a profoundly solemn and shocking film that will make viewers uncomfortable and sad—and rightfully so. A powerful film such as this one is as necessary to acknowledging our history’s faults as it is to making a film touting America’s success stories. To do anything less would allow all who suffered during those unbearable years to be trivialized or, worse, possibly forgotten. This chapter of our nation’s history is very difficult to watch and yet impossible to forget; both equally important to understanding our past and our present. When we forget who we are and the missteps we’ve made, we’re more likely to move backwards and repeat our mistakes. This is a ‘must-see’ movie that will leave you wanting to make sure that never happens.